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By Alev Lytle Croutier
From internationally acclaimed author Alev Lytle Croutier, "Seven Houses" chronicles the lives of four generations of remarkable women, sweeping readers from the last days of the Ottoman monarchy to Turkey's transformation into a republic and the present-day backlash. It is the saga of a silkmaking family as told through the houses they occupied. From a grand villa in Smyrna in the early twentieth century to a silk plantation in the foothills of Mount Olympus, from a tiny house in a sleepy town to an apartment in a modern urban high-rise, the family's dwellings reflect its fortune's rise and fall. As communal baths and odalisques give way to movies and cell phones, four unique yet powerfully linked women experience all of life's hardships and pleasures.
The various residences of the Ipekci family serve as the narrative framework for this ambitious second novel by Croutier, a multigenerational saga tracing a Turkish family's turbulent journey through the 20th century. In the storied Aegean city of Smyrna, young, widowed family matriarch Esma is courted by her children's tutor, Soleyman, until her older brother, Iskender Bey, forces Soleyman to flee. Grief stricken, Esma devotes herself to her sons, and particularly Cadri, who brings his willful bride, Camilla, to live at the family villa. Some years after Esma's death, Cadri and Camilla move to Iskender Bey's silk plantation with their daughter, Amber, who narrates much of the family history in a scattershot series of well-crafted, emotionally resonant scenes. The story of her own uneven upbringing-in Smyrna; on the plantation; in Ankara; in 1950s Istanbul, where her parents finally settle-alternates with the stories of beautiful Aida, Amber's aunt, who is crowned Miss Turkey by Ataterk; slick con man Rodrigo Cavallero, who dupes the Ipekcis with a scheme to grow decaffeinated coffee beans; and Hamid Bey, Camilla's one-armed soldier father. Amber emigrates to the U.S. as an adult, but the novel comes full circle when she returns to Turkey with her daughter and visits all the places she once knew. Croutier's shimmering prose integrates a heady potpourri of poetic imagery, elements of magical realism and finely honed characterizations. The overabundance of subplots and the absence of well-developed male characters hurts the narrative balance, but this represents a solid success on the heels of Croutier's more traditional debut, The Palace of Tears.
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